CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Some lawmakers in North Carolina want to help make hemp the state’s next cash crop.
“This is hemp flower,” said Joshua Jamison, manager of Electrik Avenew in Charlotte. The store buys hemp products that have been grown in other states and sells them in Charlotte.
Jamison supports Senate Bill 315, which would declare hemp a viable agriculture commodity in North Carolina and promote expansion of the state’s hemp industry by allowing farmers to cultivate, handle, process and sell hemp products for commercial purposes.
"I believe it's gonna open up doors for new opportunities for farmers and for the customers,” said Jamison.
He believes the bill could bring North Carolina one step closer to legalization of marijuana, but some law enforcement officers across the state said the bill does even more than that.
A memo from the State Bureau of Investigation said, “Marijuana will be legalized in NC because law enforcement cannot distinguish between hemp and marijuana and prosecutors could not prove the difference in court.”
Mint Hill Police Chief Tim Ledford agrees. He said hemp smells and looks just like marijuana.
"Our officers, when they come in contact with marijuana, it could be legal hemp,” said Ledford.
He said officers would be left unprotected for simply doing their jobs.
“They need to put something in the bill that would protect officers from being charged with an illegal arrest because they can't tell the difference,” Ledford said.
State Sen. Brent Jackson is the primary sponsor of the bill. He said lawmakers have been working with law enforcement to address their concerns and will continue to do so.
“It is our intention to set up clear guidelines for this industry that ensure safety, fairness, and stability going forward, and we believe that law enforcement should have a seat at the table to discuss this as we progress. To that end, we have put together a task force consisting of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, law enforcement, the Hemp Commission and the Industrial Hemp Association. They will meet at least quarterly to work out best practices for the industry and report back regularly to the legislature,” Jackson said.
The bill passed the Finance Committee Wednesday and will move to the Rules Committee next.
The SBI also sent the following statement to Channel 9 saying there is no field test to help law enforcement officers distinguish between hemp and marijuana:
“To the SBI’s knowledge, there is no validated field test that distinguishes .3% THC from a higher quantity. State law requires the THC in hemp to be at .3% or lower. “The SBI understands and respects the economic impacts the hemp industry has had on North Carolina. However, it is imperative that law enforcement across our state have the mechanisms in place to effectively do their jobs and enforce current state laws.”
The bureau said it's working with the Drug Enforcement Agency to find a solution to the testing issue and is also working with state lawmakers to address concerns.
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